U-WIRE) AUSTIN, Texas -- Austin/Travis
County Health and Human Services confirmed Monday that the West Nile Virus
has spread across Texas to Austin.
A dead blue jay recovered on July 17 from the 2200 block of Forest Bend,
located in southwest Austin, tested positive for the virus that first appeared
in the United States in New York in 1999.
"No one should be panicked by this information," said Steven
Harris, health authority for A/TCHHS. "I would tell anyone in this
area there is no cause for alarm."
Results from three other birds have not been completed.
No humans have tested positive for the virus in Austin, Texas, but 10 human
cases have been reported statewide, according to the Texas Department of
Health. This year, there have been 90 human cases nationwide, including
four deaths in Louisiana, the site of the largest West Nile outbreak since
Birds, mainly blue jays, crows and hawks, carry the virus. Mosquitoes bite
the infected birds and then transfer the virus to mammals, most commonly
to horses and humans.
"We certainly expect that since we have an infected bird then we have
infected mosquitoes in the area," Harris said.
Harris said only 1 percent of the mosquitoes in the state tested positive.
"We saw an increase (in the mosquito population) because of the July
rains," said Bob Flocke, public information officer for A/TCHHS. "That
seems to be going down now."
Infection is rare, and it usually occurs without symptoms. However, in
the 1 percent of cases in which people who are bitten become severely ill,
the mortality rate is 10 percent to 12 percent.
When symptoms do occur, they include fever, headache, body aches and swollen
lymph nodes. An affected person may confuse the infection with a common
flu, Harris said.
County HHS will send out a letter to doctors informing them of the virus'
presence and its symptoms.
People can prevent contraction of the West Nile Virus by taking a number
of steps. The most effective is the removal of standing water around homes,
which serves as spawning grounds for mosquitoes. Other prevention methods
include staying indoors during the hours between dusk and dawn.
"If you are going to be outside, wear long-sleeve shirts and pants,
or if that is not possible, use a mosquito repellent with DEET," Harris
At this time, the county is not recommending spraying for adult mosquitoes
because officials believe this is the least effective prevention technique.
TDH said people have the power to stop the virus from spreading to humans
and that there is not much reason behind the West Nile fears.
"The main thing we want is to have people do their own monitoring,"
said Emily Palmer, a spokeswoman for TDH. "Try to avoid mosquitoes
if you can, but also try to realize this is a very rare disease."
Health officials insist that if people find dead birds they call animal
control at 512-972-6060. They recommend that no one handle the birds, directly
as they could transmit the virus if they are infected.
Harris added that the West Nile Virus is not expected to leave the area
any time soon.
"So far, in the states that have reported [the virus], it continues
to grow and spread," Harris said.
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